Voting at the Polls - Absentee Voting - Write-in candidates - Mail-in Precincts

About Voting

Read "All About Voting" from For answers to some specific questions, read on!

Voting at the Polls

Q. Where will I vote?

Your polling place is shown on the back of your Sample Ballot. Poll locations may change from one election to another. It is best to vote in the correct polling place.

A wheelchair symbol to the right of the polling location on your Sample Ballot means the poll is accessible to the handicapped.


Online, enter your address and zip code into Smart Voter's ballot lookup feature if you are in one of our participating counties. Otherwise, contact your elections official by phone. Key in your zip code

Q. When are the polls open?

Polls are open on election days from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you are in line at the polling place prior to 8 p.m., you have the right to vote.

Q. May I vote at a polling place other than where I am assigned?

It is important to go to the correct polling place. Your name will not be on the roster of voters at any other.

However, if you haved moved within the same county and did not re-register you may take advantage of "Fail Safe Voting." The detailed instructions depend upon whether you moved within the last 15 days or not.

If you go to a polling place that is not the one assigned to you, you may ask to vote provisionally. Only the votes for the candidates and measures on which you were entitled to vote in your assigned precinct will be counted.

Q. How can I tell if I'm registered?

Contact your county elections office to find out if your name is on the roster of registered voters. Need a number? Go to a list of counties. Click on your county to find your elections office contact information. Many counties are offering a way to check your voter registration status online.

Q. I registered recently but have received no mailing (sample ballot) from my county. Can I vote?

You should find your polling place on Smart Voter and go to that location on Election Day. If your name is on the roster, they will give you a ballot. (See also "Do I need identification when I go to vote?"). If your name is not on the ballot, ask to vote provisionally.

Q. I'm registered as an independent or "decline-to-state" (party preference) voter. I would like to vote for a candidate in a partisan office in a primary. May I do so?

Maybe. In a primary election, it is up to the political parties to determine who can vote to select a candidate to run in a general election. In the February 5, 2008 presidential primary election, for example, the Democratic and American Independent parties invited independents to request one of their ballots and vote.

If you have a mail ballot, take it to the polls and exchange it for a party ballot. If you don't have a mail ballot, when you get to the polling place, you may request a ballot for one of the two parties. Poll workers are not obligated to ask you if you want one of those ballots. But they are required to give you one if you ask for it.

Q. What if I moved 14 days or less from the election and did not have time to re-register?

If you moved within your county, you can go to your old polling place, your new polling place, or to the Elections Office in your county on Election Day. If you go to your new polling place, ask to cast a provisional ballot. [Read more details about voting if you moved.]

Q. What if I moved 15 days or more before an election and did not re-register?

If you moved within your county and did not re-register to vote, you can only vote at your new residential polling place using a provisional ballot or at the county's elections office on Election Day. [Read more details about voting if you moved.]

Q. What if my name is not on the roster at the polling place?

If your name does not show up on the precinct roster, a pollworker will help you determine if you are at the right polling place. You can vote by provisional ballot at any polling place. The ballot will be placed in a special envelope that must be signed. It will be checked later to make sure that you are registered to vote in your county. For more details, see "Provisional Ballot".

Q. Can I find out whether my provisional ballot was counted?

You have a right to know if your vote was counted.Contact your county elections office to ask if the ballot with your voting receipt number was counted. There is no charge for this service.

Q. What if my polling place is not accessible to the handicapped?

If you do not wish to vote absentee, you may vote as near as possible to the polling place. A precinct board member will bring a ballot to you just outside the polling place or you may request an absentee ballot. You may also apply to your county's clerk or registrar for permanent absentee ballot status.

Q. Do I need identification when I go to vote?

If you have voted before and your name is on the roster of voters, no. You will just be asked to state your name and address and sign the roster.

If this is your first time voting and you registered by mail without giving your California drivers license or state identification number or the last four digits of your social security number, then you may need to show photo identification (e.g. valid driver's license or state ID) or a paycheck, utility bill, or government document that shows your name and address.

To be safe, take a photo id with you to the polls.

Q. What can I do to help reduce the time at the polling place?

Election lines may be very long. If everyone has already taken their sample ballot and marked their choices in that ballot, then voting can be done as quickly as possible. If people wait until they get to the machine or device where you mark your ballot to think about and make your decision, it will take a very long time.

If you don't have a sample ballot, print out your Smart Voter ballot and mark your choices on that. The order of contests will not be the same so be very careful.

Q. Do I have to vote for every contest or measure on my ballot?

No. Leave it blank when you don't feel informed enough to make a decision. As long as you mark your choice according to the instructions, your vote will be counted for that contest.

Q. What if I need help in marking my ballot?

Two people may assist you if you take an oath administered by the precinct worker that assistance is required. However, you have the right to vote privately and independently. New voting systems give you this ability.

Q. How long may I stay in the polling booth?

There is no time limit, nor are there limits on what you may take into the polling booth with you.

Q. What if I make a mistake on my ballot?

You may request another paper ballot. Using any voting system, you have the right to be notified how to identify and correct specified errors in voting.

Q. What are my rights as a voter?

Your first right: if you are registered, you have a right to vote. For the other rights, please see "Voter Bill of Rights".

Absentee Voting

Q. Can I vote without going to the polling place?

Yes. Anyone may vote by absentee ballot. You need not state a reason. Apply for an absentee voter ballot no more than 60 days before the election by writing a letter to the registrar of voters or county clerk in your county or returning the application form included with your sample ballot.

Any mailed request must be received no less than 7 days prior to the election. Be sure to give your registered address and the address to which the absentee voter ballot is to be sent. Your written signature (as registered) is needed. Emergency absentee ballots can be issued in the week before the election in case of sudden illness or disability or a need to be absent from the precinct. You may also apply for permanent absentee ballot status.

Q. Where do I return an absentee ballot?

It can be mailed to the Registrar of Voters or delivered in person to any polling place in your county no later than 8 p.m. on election day. It must be received by that time (postmarks do not count). If illness or a physical disability prevents you from returning your ballot in person, you may designate a close relative to return the ballot to the polling place.

Be sure to put enough postage on the envelope.

Write-in Candidates

Q. How do I write-in a candidate not on the ballot?

The name of a write-in candidate must be written by hand upon a ballot (no pressure-sensitive stickers or other methods are valid). Or follow the instructions for your voting machine system. For the vote to be counted, the name of the person written must have been certified as a write-in candidate. For more information see Summary of Qualifications and Requirements for Write-In Candidates (PDF file).

Q. Do I have to spell the name of a write-in candidate exactly as it was filed?

No. Your vote should be counted if the name written bears a reasonable resemblance to the qualified candidate's name and no other write-in candidate for the indicated office (or any office if no office was noted) has a name so similar as to leave a reasonable doubt as to your intention.

Mail-in Precincts

Q. I am in a mail-in precinct. How do I cast my ballot?

You should have received a ballot in the mail from your local County Elections office.

If you have not yet mailed your ballot, take it to the County Elections Office no later than 8 p.m. on election day. Some or all counties will allow you to deliver the mail-in ballot in person to any open polling place in your county. Your ballot will be handled with the same procedure as absentee ballots. For any questions about this procedure, please call your local Elections Office.

Q. I want to drop off my ballot at a nearby polling location. How do I find the address?

To find a polling location, you must enter a street address and zip. If you are looking for a close polling location in order to drop off a mail-in or absentee ballot, look up a business or other address in the area that you know and enter that into Smart Voter. You can use the US Postal Service site to find zip codes. Or check the list of all polling locations in the county from your Smart Voter ballot page.

For more information, please go to "Elections: Voting".